Bass gives sound more depth. Bass is technically known as low-frequency sound. If you like your music earth-shaking and booming, then you definitely need to add bass. Bass is reproduced by low-frequency drivers. The best drivers for reproducing bass are woofers and subwoofers. They’re specially made to reproduce low frequencies. However, are woofers and subwoofers the same? Most people tend to confuse the two, while others assume they’re one and the same thing. However, the two have some key differences. Let’s look at these differences.
A woofer is technically a loudspeaker designed for reproducing low-frequency sound. Generally, a woofer reproduces sound ranging from 40 Hz to 2,500 Hz. On the other hand, a subwoofer is designed to reproduce much lower frequencies that a woofer can’t. Generally, a subwoofer is designed to reproduce frequencies within the range of 20 Hz to 200 Hz. Thus, a woofer reproduces a wider frequency range whereas a subwoofer reproduces a narrower frequency range. As such, a subwoofer delivers more constant bass.
The frequency range covered by woofers is ideal enough for most uses. However, music lovers who want the best bass should consider adding a subwoofer. Since a subwoofer focuses on a narrower frequency range, it reproduces fuller bass than a woofer can do. Consequently, when using a subwoofer, you would need other drivers such as midrange drivers to reproduce other frequencies.
Another technical difference when comparing a woofer vs a subwoofer is the size. Basically, subwoofers are built larger than woofers. Driving low frequencies demands driving a large volume of air. This is only possible with a large cone surface area and a large, powerful magnet. Consequently, the overall size of the subwoofer becomes larger than that of a woofer. As previously noted, subwoofers reproduce lower frequencies than a woofer, thus a subwoofer needs to be larger than a woofer. While some woofers are quite big, most of them as still smaller than subs and they can’t hit the lowest frequencies like subs.
Method of Powering the Driver
Woofers and subwoofers also differ in the way they are powered. Basically, woofers are only designed as passive bass drivers. This means that a woofer is powered by an external amplifier. A woofer can be powered by the same amplifier that is powering the regular speakers. Thus, a woofer only requires a connection to the amplifier output to get the power it needs. On the other hand, subwoofers are either passive or active powered. Passive subwoofers work the same way as passive woofers. The difference is with active subwoofers.
Active subwoofers have their own inbuilt amplifier. The amplifier is usually built within the subwoofer box. For a subwoofer to sound best, it needs to be connected to a dedicated sub output from the amplifier. Their inbuilt amplifier is able to boost the strength of the input signal from the head unit for it to drive the sub. Active subwoofers need a connection to the head unit and another connection to a power source. Thus, active subwoofers are more demanding to set up than woofers. Active subs also come with an inbuilt crossover. The role of the crossover is to filter out high frequencies and only allow low frequencies to get to the subwoofer driver. This way, a subwoofer is able to reproduce cleaner bass.
When comparing a woofer vs a subwoofer, it’s worth noting that they differ in power consumption. Basically, a woofer demands less power than a subwoofer. Subwoofers consume more power since they hit the lowest frequencies. Hitting the lowest frequencies takes a lot of power from the amplifier. For instance, as a car subwoofer hits the lowest bass notes, it can actually make the lights dim due to the extent of power it draws from the car amp, something that rarely happens with woofers. Thus, you would need to add a capacitor to your car when using a powerful subwoofer. The capacitor works by storing a temporary electrical charge to feed the amplifier with instantaneous power needs. This way, the lights won’t dim as the sub hits the lowest bass notes.
Number of Drivers
Woofers and subwoofers also differ with respect to the number of drivers they have. Basically, most woofers, especially for cars, come as a 2-way or 3-way driver system. In a 2-way setup, the speaker comprises two drivers namely a woofer and a tweeter. In a 3-way setup, the speaker system comprises of a woofer, midrange driver, and a tweeter. Some other woofer setups come as a 4-way driver system. A 4-way driver system is similar to a 3-way setup but with a fourth driver known as a super-tweeter.
On the other hand, subwoofers are purely a single driver system. A subwoofer only has a single driver in the speaker basket. Although you can have multiple subwoofers built into one enclosure, each subwoofer is still a single driver system, unlike woofers that come with multiple drivers that are built in one basket.
Upon comparing a woofer vs subwoofer, you now understand why they are different. Technically, a subwoofer hits the lowest bass while a woofer hits a wider low-frequency range. When upgrading your car sound system, or any other music system, your choice should be based on the kind of bass you want. A woofer would be ideal for basic bass needs whereas a subwoofer would be more ideal for earth-shaking bass.
Michael Evanchuk is a San Francisco-based sound engineer with 20 years’ experience installing, troubleshooting, and repairing commercial, automotive, and household sound equipment. Evanchuk owns an auto stereo center, where he offers highly competitive car audio installation and repair services. He has written dozens of articles on different sound engineering topics, all of which have been published in leading journals, blogs, and websites.